The flu season has been particularly bad this year. Flu-like cases reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national network have spiked sharply over the past two weeks. Dr. Dan Jernigan of the CDC, said, “This is a season that has a lot more steam than we thought.”
The flu is currently widespread over the entire continental United States, which is unusual. All states except for Hawaii are reporting considerable flu activity. Last week was the busiest week for flu symptoms in nine years. Thirty-two states reported high patient traffic due to high fever, cough and other flu symptoms last week, up from 26 the previous week.
In New York, more than 1,600 people were hospitalized for flu cases this past week. In Mississippi, flu outbreaks have hit more than 100 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Some school districts in Oklahoma and Texas have canceled classes because so many students and teachers were ill.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Infection usually results in a relatively mild illness in many people, but can cause a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older.
Everyone needs to take the flu very seriously this year. This flu season, even young, healthy people are dying of the flu and its complications. So far this flu season, the deaths of 30 children have been linked to flu. Roughly 80 percent of people who have come down with the flu this year did not get vaccinated.
This year’s flu season has been driven by a nasty type of flu called H3N2. That strain tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other flu strains. In November and December, it emerged that the flu vaccine was not very effective against H3N2. Some estimates have the vaccine at only 30 percent effective for this year.
The government shutdown could hurt states’ efforts to fight the epidemic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contingency plan for a government shutdown involves pulling support from the CDC’s annual influenza program. Most of the CDC staff will not be working with the government shut down.